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DVD review: 'Hell Baby'

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'Hell Baby'


Oftentimes, when one frees funny people from the shackles of studio interference, it results in some real comedy that is undiluted and truly represents their voices.

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'Hell Baby' is the brainchild of Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant best known from comedy shows 'Reno 911' and 'The State' along with penning some major blockbusters 'Night At The Museum' as well as getting credit for some real turkeys like 'Herbie: Fully Loaded.'

Let's see which camp this falls into.

Jack (Rob Corddry) and his expecting wife Vanessa (Leslie Bibb) move into a creepy old house in New Orleans. It doesn't take long for spooky things to begin happening after the couple makes themselves at home. First of all, there is a ghostly old woman who keeps appearing. More troubling still is that Vanessa seems to be possessed by some demon. A neighbor named F'resnel (Keegan Michael Key) keeps letting himself into the house to inform Jack about danger, all while startling him constantly.

After an incident, the local police, Ron (Paul Scheer) and Micky (Rob Huebel) begin sniffing around. On a larger scale, the Vatican sends two exorcist/ghostbusting priests, Father Sebastian (Garant) and Father Padrigo (Lennon) after danger is sensed.

Lennon and Garant are very accomplished writers both in terms of feature success and writing for sketch/television. For some reason, this film isn't particularly effective with its humor. Low brow is fine, but when things feel half-hearted, that is when you lose an audience. Repeating jokes and running them into the ground is never a good idea. The naked old woman gag is ridiculous (not in a good way), there is an extended vomit scene that doesn't work, and with the exception of their backgrounds, the ghostbusting priests neither come off as truly badass or silly enough. They exist as some strange middle-ground. Overall, the ratio of jokes that hit versus ones that miss is way off. You'll be able to see too many of them coming from a mile away.

One simple sequence (which is used a few times) involves rapid editing and an appreciation of food. It's one of the funnier parts of the film, but the appeal is impossible to explain.

This was made with very few resources and while it doesn't look bad, there are times that the limitations really show. For example, the finale mostly takes place in a confined space with a few silly, unconvincing props and chaos/violence that is jammed in there to make it interesting.

It's not as if the horror aspect was a real focus that distracted from the comedy. This isn't remotely scary. There are hints of 'Rosemary's Baby', 'The Exorcist' and a few other stories, but it is neither a wicked skewering of these films nor a clever pastiche. The fair amount of gore is mostly done well but it will turn off many people who don't like that in their comedies while it might not be prevalent enough to truly please some horror fans.

Key has the most consistently funny character in this whole movie. It might be a little one-note, but the gag of him startling Jack are effective, nonetheless. With his tiny role, Kumail Nanjiani has some of the funniest scenes in what are some of the most subtle moments in the film. Scheer and Huebel do what they can with the material. It is unknown whether Lennon and Garant were going for terrible accents/acting, but they achieved it here. Wow. Riki Lindhome has a very memorable role in the film's second half, but not necessarily because of the character she plays. You'll see.

Special features include: deleted scenes and a gag reel.

'Hell Baby' has a few amusing moments, but overall, it is far less than the sum of its parts.

Perhaps it was my own fault for building this up in my mind, but this was a real disappointment.

Rated R 94 minutes 2013


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